Forget the nerve-inducing sound of the drill or what mind-numbing soap opera is playing on the television. When you visit Harvey Passes, DDS at Passes Dental Care in Great Neck, you’re not seeing a run-of-the-mill dentist. Not by a long shot. The charismatic and caring Passes sings to his patients, acts more like a partner than a dental drill sergeant and even wrote a book Profiles in Dental Courage to help people overcome their fears of going to the dentist. Pulse spoke to the man affectionately known around the Island as “The Singing Dentist” about his favorite tunes, career and the one thing he wishes people would know about oral health.
Long Island Pulse: Why did you decide to become a dentist?
Harvey Passes, DDS: Real simple, my mother told me, “You’re going to be a dentist.” I’m a Jewish boy from Queens, my parents grew up during the Great Depression. I did not have that in mind. I had gotten a recording contract with Columbia records and I wanted to sing. My mother said to me, “Get your dental degree. Then I don’t care what you do because you can always be a dentist.”
Pulse: Though dentistry has become your day job, you’re known for doing a little more than whistling while you work. Why do you sing to your patients?
Passes: I can’t do dentistry without singing. Otherwise it becomes work. My patients say to me, “We really appreciate your singing because it makes me feel like everything is OK.”
Pulse: Is there a specific song or genre?
Passes: Over the years the genre has changed. Right now it’s what I like to call Pop Opera, singers like Josh Groban or Michael Bublé. I also love Frank Sinatra. That’s what I enjoy singing most because it works beautifully with my voice and the patients find it calming.
Pulse: Speaking of calming people down, you wrote a book about getting over fears of going to the dentist. What inspired you to do that?
Passes: While at NYU Dental School, I was very fortunate to seek out a number of mentors, people who are accomplished dentists. I observed them put people under anesthesia. They would do their work, but the patient would still be afraid after and often wouldn’t come back for years. I said, “There’s got to be a better way.” I started doing research, created a clinic at Jamaica Hospital Department of Dentistry in Queens and figured out behaviorally how to get people over their fear. I realized that it would be great to write a book on it.
Pulse: Other than singing, what are some innovative things you do in your office to put people at ease?
Passes: I invest in technology. Most drills dentists use were those developed in the 1950s and they make high-pitched sounds that scare the pants off everybody. The one I use is electric and has a low, gentle buzz. I developed a cream that I have the pharmacy compound for me. It’s something I have made up. It uses some of the best local anesthetic creams and I put it on the gum to distract the patient from feeling an injection. The vast majority of my patients say they don’t even feel anything, I have a device that allows me to give an injection with a computer, which is great for both kids and adults. Finally, I use a humanistic approach. I listen to my patients, care and take time to explain.
Pulse: What is the one thing you wish people knew about oral healthcare?
Passes: Most dental treatment is preventable and avoidable. When patients will come in with awful infections, we ask them when they last came in for a check-up and they so often say, “I only come in when there’s a problem.” History shows that those who routinely come for cleanings every three months, four months or six months, have less problems.